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Overture to Death

(Roderick Alleyn #8)

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  2,951 ratings  ·  200 reviews
It s murder in the little English village, but the two local spinsters, Miss Campanula, the victim, and Miss Prentice, her friend who may have been the intended victim, are not exactly the beloved little old ladies of song and story. They were (and are) waspish, gossiping snobs, passionate only about their own narrowly defined religion .and, perhaps, about the local vicar. ...more
Paperback, 277 pages
Published April 17th 2001 by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (first published 1939)
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3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,951 ratings  ·  200 reviews

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Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂
Aug 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Marsh Completists only
"It's like one of those affairs in books," said Bailey disgustedly."Someone trying to think up a new way to do a murder. Silly, I call it."

"What do you say, Roper?" said Alleyn.

"To my way of thinking, sir," said Sergeant Roper, "these thrillers are ruining our criminal classes."

The humour in this novel (Miss Marsh's 8th Alleyn title) is its saving grace. That and some excellent dialogue. This book has a slow (and quite dull) start, Nigel Bathgate (the world's most annoying Watson) and (view sp
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When a group of worth locals decide to put on some amateur theatricals, in order to raise money for a new piano, it inflames local passions, jealousies and insecurities. Our cast include the local Squire, Jocelyn Journingham, his cousin, Eleanor, his son, Henry, who is in love with the Rector’s daughter, Dinah, her father, Rector Copeland – a man adored by the two local, gossipy spinsters, Cousin Eleanor and Idris Campanula, the local doctor, Dr Template, whose wife is an invalid and the attract ...more
Sep 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
I have developed a theory regarding the appeal of these "golden age" British mysteries: every character is so poisonous and hateful that one is freed from any concern for their fates or sadness about the fictional death and suffering.

This installment is set just before Alleyn's marriage, but sadly Troy does not feature.
This book was published in 1939 and it shows. The plot involves the murder of an unpopular but rich middle-aged spinster and a cast of very unlikeable suspects indeed. Ngaio Marsh, despite being a spinster herself, is very keen to push all the stereotypes of the time surrounding unmarried women of a certain age. They are narrow-minded, hysterical, sexually repressed, bitter harpies. It is a constant in the story and one which left a very unsavoury taste in my mouth. I think it is my least favour ...more
Mar 31, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: crime, mystery
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
When reading the synopsis for Overture to Death (1939) by Ngaio Marsh, one can be excused for thinking that this will be another of her theatrical mysteries. After all, it tells us that a group of seven amateur actors are preparing to put on the play Shop Windows when Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C Sharp Minor" is set for the overture. Then on opening night the pianist barely gets started--playing three chords and then stepping on soft pedal--before a loud bang is heard and Miss Idris Campanula fa ...more
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Detective Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn goes to the small village of Chipping in 1939’s Overture to Death, published during the height of Ngaio Marsh’s heyday. The local church really needs a new piano, so a group of eight local citizens gets together to raise money for a new piano by putting on a play. Two middle-aged spinsters, Idris Campanula and Eleanor Prentice, embody the modern term “frienemies,” heads always together in gossip against the rest of the world, but backbiting at each other ...more
Nov 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
I do love the Roderick Alleyn mysteries. I've read the first 8 so far, with Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh being the 8th one, plus a couple of others further down the line. They do seem to get better and better. The mysteries are always interesting. In this story, an unpopular woman is murdered in a most interesting way. Was she the target or another? Alleyn and his team, the steady, constant Inspector Fox and his friend, news reporter Nigel Bathgate, accompany Alleyn to Pen Cuckoo at the behe ...more
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just as amateur pianist Miss Campanula strikes the third chord of the overture to a new village play, a shot rings out and she slumps dead across the keys. Closer examination reveals the piano was boobytrapped: a cunning arrangement of pulleys within meant that, the first time someone pressed the "soft" pedal, a cord would pull the trigger of an internally mounted Colt automatic pistol.

But who could have wanted Miss Campanula dead? Just to complicate matters, was Miss Campanula really the intend
Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries, audiobooks
Wanda McCaddon (who also narrates under the names Donada Peters and Nadia May) was perfect for this Golden Age mystery.

August 2017: Very enjoyable even knowing the solution. I could appreciate how well Marsh gives the reader a the clues without making it obvious.
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
At first I thought, oh yum, village theatricals! Always a hotbed of discontent, of course you expect everyone to have their knives into everyone else, but shooting someone in the head is a little extreme! Unfortunately, Marsh was soon riding her psychological hobbyhorse round and round, and trust me--the old grey mare just ain't what she used to be. I get miffed when "lady writers" sell out their own sex by blaming everything from obsessive housecleaning to--well, murderous impulses--on thwarted ...more
Sophie Hannah
Jun 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Well written, engaging, very detailed...but the pacing wasn't quite right. It seemed quite repetitive and longer than it needed to be. An enjoyable Golden Age mystery, but lacking that touch of magic that you get with Agatha Christie. Somehow not quite gripping enough.
Ivonne Rovira
Those familiar with Ngaio Marsh and her Roderick Alleyn novels know that her writing style isn't the frenzied roller-coaster ride so popular today. She takes her time letting you know her characters and slyly sending up the upper classes of her day. However, in Overture to Death, four or five chapters slip by simply exploring the petty machinations of two village harpies: a pair of gossipy, spiteful, meddlesome spinsters without equal. The endless focus of these parodies of the malicious spinste ...more
Dec 18, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pom! Pom! Pom! Three notes sounded from the piano. As the third one died away a shot rang out and a murder was committed in a sleepy English village where the inhabitants enjoyed their gossip and illicit love affairs.

The local bobby was deemed incapable of solving the crime without the help of Chief Inspector Alleyn of Scotland Yard. He duly arrives with his trusty assistants and Nigel Bathgate, his faithful Watson.

He interviews all the suspects and, in turn, it appears as though each of them co
Patricia Vocat
May 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Wow... this took forever to finish...
Overture to Death has all what I look for in a Mystery novel: It is very atmospheric, very British, steeped in the time period it is set in, oh, and possibly a little stereotypical. But still it made my eyes glaze over every time I read a couple of pages.

The petty machinations of the two village harpies are quite entertaining. Marsh takes her time letting you know her characters and slyly pokes fun at the upper classes. Nonetheless the group of people remai
Dec 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: british-mystery
One of my favourite things about Marsh's book is that she spends quite a bit of time on the set up for the mystery-if you like action from the very beginning this book is not for you. I love the fact that we see so much scene development and character development in a mystery. For me, the scene and the atmosphere are as important as the mystery itself. DO NOT read the chapter titles, unless you like spoilers. If I had to pick my two favourite detectives ever, I would pick Poirot and Alleyn. Alle ...more
Really 3.5 stars

I've read a number in this series over the years and seen a number of the BBC, I guess, productions so this was a visit with old friends, Chief Insp. Alleyn and Insp. (Brer) Fox. All that you would expect from Marsh is in this book, great characters, plot twists and turns, some humorous bits - Pen Cuckoo as the name of a house - and a satisfactory wrap up. Even though this book was written in the 1930s it is still enjoyable. This classic British mystery style continues today and
Dec 31, 2016 rated it liked it
Solid, but not quite as engaging as #7 in the series, for example. Very unique manner of murder, but almost too tidy a set-up to be believable. Also too many unsympathetic characters, especially the malicious spinsters. I liked Henry, one of the suspects, but some of the others I felt like shaking.
Feb 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery
Marsh manages to work the oddest things into a murder mystery. Okay, so the old lady only knew one song, but for the piano to shoot her? I like the workings of villages and the class system in Britain at that time. It's just an interesting slice of history/life and a mystery, too.
Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries, owned
Good entry in the Inspector Alleyn series though I wish that Fox had a bigger role.
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
An amateur dramatic performance is being staged to raise money for a piano for the parish hall. Two elderly spinsters, Miss Prentice and Miss Calendula, are vying for the right to play the Overture on the night of the performance. When Miss Prentice has to withdraw, Miss Calendula takes over, only to be shot dead at the keyboard...

Enjoyable mystery, where I found the characters more engaging than the rather silly plot. Although they are stereotypes on the surface - the vicar, the spinsters, the
Yet another solid mystery from Marsh. I attribute the improvements over the course of the series to the lack of contemporary slang (which was ever present in the earlier novels), and better character development. No more cookie cutter caricatures where you can't tell one guy from the next. The murder method is a bit outlandish, but I feel like there was a plausible explanation behind it. I'm definitely looking forward to the next book.
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I gave this book a second try so I am updating my review. The last time I tried to read it, our literally listen to the audiobook, I started it four times and could not pick up the story. I was probably multitasking at the time.

This time I was doing nothing but listening to the audiobook. The beginning of the story is not particularly riveting but it did make sense this time. So the moral is that if you’re listening be sure and listen closely to the beginning of the book so that you don’t get lo
Nancy Butts
Dec 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
This is the eighth of Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn mysteries, and it has always been one of my favorites. “Murder at the Parish Hall” or “Prelude to Death” it might have been called; either one would have been appropriate. Set in the last days before the Second World War in a rural Dorset village, I love the name of the gentry house: Pen Cuckoo. [Alleyn would return to the same neighborhood in a later novel, Death and the Dancing Footman.] It has many of Marsh’s stock characters: the doctor, a lovel ...more
Aug 06, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, 2019
2019 Reread

Still not a favourite. I may have liked it slightly better on reread, mainly because the secondary romance is actually not terrible? (Bearing in mind that Marsh has a lot of cases of super-instalove in her secondary romances, so that's not a particularly high bar.)

But yeah, a bunch of unlikeable characters in this.


This one was a whole lot of no for me. Everyone is just too repressed and English, and not in a good way. Because the real problem is that there's a strong undercurrent
1939, #8 Inspector Roderick Alleyn, rural Dorset; classic village cosy.

A stunningly intricate murder plot immersed in village life, two spinsters warring over a yummy clergyman, amateur theatricals, and an exploding piano make this a wonderful confection for classic mystery readers, and there’s just enough darkness mixed in to give it a nice edge.

All the usual suspects are here, for along with the spinsters and the clergyman there’s the Squire, the young lovers (Squire’s son and clergyman’s da
Apr 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of the genre, clean british murder mysteries
A classic cozy British mystery from the 30's, and so a little dated, but not as much as might be.

The life and times of a small English village are described to a tea (at least the upper crust of said village), and the book in many ways makes one wish for simpler times and makes me wish a little that I lived in such a place. Simple, straightforward, uncomplicated (except by murder), every in their place as they understand it.

It is interesting to note how Marsh is able to take several sexual situ
Feb 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of Golden Age of Mystery cozies
Update: Third time's the charm! I knew that I had read this, but didn't read this review before downloading it and listening again. It was really fun to be nearly positive that I remembered who did it, this time, but I had that niggling doubt, and listened for the slightest clue that I was right. It worked out perfectly, and was so much more fun.

8th in series, first published in 1939
Fun to read, not deep, but good for a rainy afternoon with tea and scones.
Update: I enjoyed this less as an audiob
Oct 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
Marsh's mysteries are highly appealing in that they are complex, detailed puzzles. She puts all the information in front of the reader, while presenting appealing or revolting characters to entertain and possibly distract from untangling each mystery.

I am often a lazy mystery reader, bobbing along on the surface and being surprised at the big "reveal", but I put part of this one together in advance (although not what happened with one of the side characters).

As usual, well done. Some interesti
John Frankham
Dec 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime-detective
One of the very best Alleyn mysteries. Which of the seven surviving members of the amateur dramatic cast murdered the eighth? A good cast of characters, well developed, a good exposition of rural Dorset and local society. And a nice problem for Alleyn to unravel, including a water pistol, a box, an onion!
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Reading the Detec...: Overture to Death 17 29 Aug 24, 2018 01:52PM  
Reading the Detec...: Overture to Death - SPOILER Thread 56 28 Aug 20, 2018 03:33PM  

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Dame Ngaio Marsh, born Edith Ngaio Marsh, was a New Zealand crime writer and theatre director. There is some uncertainty over her birth date as her father neglected to register her birth until 1900, but she was born in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Of all the "Great Ladies" of the English mystery's golden age, including Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh

Other books in the series

Roderick Alleyn (1 - 10 of 33 books)
  • A Man Lay Dead (Roderick Alleyn #1)
  • Enter a Murderer (Roderick Alleyn, #2)
  • The Nursing Home Murder (Roderick Alleyn, #3)
  • Death in Ecstasy (Roderick Alleyn, #4)
  • Vintage Murder (Roderick Alleyn, #5)
  • Artists in Crime (Roderick Alleyn #6)
  • Death in a White Tie (Roderick Alleyn, #7)
  • Death at the Bar (Roderick Alleyn, #9)
  • Death of a Peer (Roderick Alleyn #10)
  • Death and the Dancing Footman (Roderick Alleyn, #11)
“It's like one of those affairs in books," said Bailey disgustedly."Someone trying to think up a new way to do a murder. Silly, I call it."

"What do you say, Roper?" said Alleyn.

"To my way of thinking, sir," said Sergeant Roper, "these thrillers are ruining our criminal classes.”
“The Romans say, 'You must', the Protestant Nonconformists say, 'You must not', the Catholic Church of England says, 'You may.' [regarding the practice of confession; Overture to Death, chapter 17]” 0 likes
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